Polls Open in Azerbaijan Parliament Re-Vote
Polls opened on Sunday for repeat elections in 11 Azerbaijani districts where the results of November's controversial parliamentary elections were invalidated by widespread violations.
The second round of voting is widely seen as playing a key role in deciding whether the ex-Soviet Caspian state will be accepted, along with its Caucasus rival Armenia, into the Council of Europe.
In total, nine parties are taking part, including President Heydar Aliyev's ruling party Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan), which won 72 seats in the 125-member parliament.
Twenty-three of the 73 candidates belong to New Azerbaijan, while four are from the opposition Popular Front. Thirty-nine are independent.
Some 200 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will be monitoring the vote.
A recent European delegation told Azeri officials that the re-vote would have to show marked improvement over the November 5 contest, which was heavily criticised by international bodies.
OSCE observers said they witnessed widespread vote rigging, ballot stuffing and official intimidation.
The Council of Europe decided shortly after the contest to accept Azerbaijan and Armenia, but at the same time to delay induction until measures were taken to address voting violations.
Officials from the 41-member council, Europe's main democracy and human rights body, are expected to raise the question of the two countries' admission again at a meeting on January 17, after election observers issue their final report on the vote on January 12.
The Popular Front, which won six seats in the November poll, as well as other opposition parties, continue to boycott the parliament and demand entirely fresh elections.
They maintain that the results in November were "falsified."
Thousands of people marched through the capital Baku, in the weeks after the elections, to demand the resignation of President Aliyev -- BAKU (AFP)
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